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Business & Economy

More Buses Or A Gondola Selected As Finalists For Little Cottonwood Canyon Traffic Plan

A photo of the the Quarry Trailhead.
Courtesy of Utah Department of Transportation
The Utah Department of Transportation estimates that car travel time on Little Cottonwood Canyon will more than double on the busiest days of the year by 2050.

After three years of analysis and review, the Utah Department of Transportation has settled on two proposals to reduce traffic through Little Cottonwood Canyon — an expanded bus service with road widening or a gondola which would run from the La Caille restaurant at the base of the canyon to the Alta and Snowbird ski resorts.

The small mountain road can stall cars for hours, particularly during the busy winter ski season. Residents have long been looking for a solution that makes travel easier with minimal impacts to the surrounding environment.

The final options were whittled down from 124 initial proposals, including one from Elon Musk’s Boring Company to launch Teslas through an underground tunnel.

Josh Van Jura, LCC project manager for UDOT, said the two finalists each tackle one of the primary goals of the project — shorter and more consistent travel times.

The bus option would be the fastest, he said, getting people up the mountain in about 37 minutes, including parking and walking to the bus stop. Buses would pick riders up every five minutes, but could be slowed by winter weather delays. The option also requires widening the road the entire way up the canyon.

The gondola provides the most consistent travel times — just under an hour from parking to reaching the top — and would leave the base station every two minutes. It would have a greater visual impact on the mountains, but would be less invasive to the nearby watershed, wildlife and climbing boulders.

Both options would cost roughly the same over a 30-year period. They would also come with additional measures like building two park-and-ride lots close by, snow sheds to help control avalanches and requiring cars to pay a toll during busy times.

Stakeholders have been divided on their preferences for the LCC plan, but doing nothing is not an option, said Ralph Becker, executive director of the regional planning group Central Wasatch Commission.

UDOT estimates that by 2050, travel time on LCC will more than double on the busiest days of the year and, as the region’s population grows, traffic will continue to spill out into the surrounding neighborhoods.

Becker said there is immense pressure to select an option that will not only reduce traffic for years to come, but can be integrated into a wider, regional transportation plan and protect natural resources. The major difficulty is coming to terms with the potential negative consequences of a given option, some of which are impossible to predict.

“It's been an enormous challenge,” he said. “The Central Wasatch Commission has devoted a tremendous amount of time and energy, understanding, analyzing, looking at all of these reports and information and there is no consensus about what the best solution would be.”

UDOT’s announcement kicks off a 45-day public comment period, with two public hearings scheduled in July. A final option will be chosen this winter.

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